The story of Elon Musk gets stranger by the week. The CEO of Tesla has doubled down on his claims that one of the hero Thai rescue divers is a pedophile. BuzzFeed today reported an email it received from Musk, stating that the diver moved from the U.K. to Thailand is a "child rapist" and had relocated to take a child bride.
All without any apparent proof, while commenting about a lawsuit threat the diver's lawyer made in August.
This seems to be the year of Musk directly channeling whatever comes to mind directly to his vocal chords. He insulted equity analysts following the stock on one earnings call this year, although he apologized on the next call ... three months later. His tweet about interest in taking the company private again, only to back away from it later, has drawn interest from the SEC, which isn't what you want to hear about a publicly-traded company.
As my colleague Eric Mack noted last month, Musk's utterances in an interview with the New York Times showed a dangerous weakness. He seems to think he's the only person who can run the company.
With the way he's been going, there is one job he could delegate: standing on one foot while chewing on the other.
No matter what his legion of fan-investors thinks, this behavior is beyond bizarre. Most people realize that there are times you don't cut loose with whatever comes to mind. And if the average person needs control, the CEO of a public company must have more.
The wrong words can scare markets, kill potential deals, interest regulators, attract lawsuits, and otherwise scramble a company's plans. What seems like erratic behavior can make banks end ties.
As BuzzFeed noted:
"Elon Musk can tweet his vindictive and vicious lie about Mr. Unsworth a hundred times and it will still be a lie," Unsworth's lawyer, L. Lin Wood, wrote in a statement. "After deleting the initial accusation and tweeting an apology, Mr. Musk has continued to republish his false and unsupportable accusation. His conduct demonstrates that his recklessness is intentional and designed to harm Mr. Unsworth." A spokesperson for Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment on Musk's newest allegations, and referred to a previous statement issued by the board in response to a question about its support for the company's CEO.
Musk already told the Times that the "past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career." He should probably get a COO who understands the car manufacturing industry and have them take over large practical areas.
But strain or not, his expectation of being able to say anything to or about anyone is a serious problem. If you're a CEO, you have no right to attract the type of negative attention that Musk has courted.
Time for Musk to close his mouth and let someone else begin to take on responsibility. Or it will be time for board to reconsider whether the company can afford the risk of his continued leadership.